Tree farm traditions
Harmony Hill offers firs, pines
By Greg Seubert
For some, it’s the aroma of a fresh tree.
For others, it’s an opportunity for some quality family time.
That’s what makes Harmony Hill Evergreens a busy place this time of year.
Chuck and Marianne Kass have operated the choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm near Saxeville since 1992.
The farm includes 80 acres of Fraser, balsam and Canaan firs and white pines. With Christmas less than a month away, families are heading to the farm, about 12 miles south of Waupaca off of County Trunk E.
Chris and Michelle Luty made the hour-long trip from their Appleton home with their young son, Ethan.
“I don’t think either of us ever cut down trees as a kid, but it was something we started in Madison when we first got married,” Michelle said. “I get very into the decorating of the tree with a different theme every year.
“We have our first son and wanted to continue the tradition with him,” she said. “This is a family-friendly place to continue that tradition.”
The Lutys returned to Harmony Hill’s heated warming house after cutting down a Canaan fir. They also picked a Canaan fir at the farm last year after finding the business online.
“They’ve got a great selection of trees,” Luty said. “It feels like every tree that we look at looks nearly perfect.”
Prices range from $34 for a white pine to $44 for a balsam fir, $48 for a Canaan fir and $57 for a Fraser fir. The selection includes Frasers up to 12 feet tall; balsams and Canaans from 6 to 8 feet; and white pines from 7 to 10 feet.
“We charge a flat rate for the various species with total disregard for height,” Chuck Kass said. “We identify each section with the years they were put in. When somebody comes to buy a tree and they say, ‘Oh my God, X number of dollars.’ Well, it’s been in the ground for eight years or 11 years.”
After arriving, customers obtain a tree tag and saw.
“We explain the routine and how to get started and ask them if they have a preference for trees,” Kass said. “All of the areas are marked and people go out and get their tree cut. We have four tractors and trailers going. We pick the tree up, bring it back, bale it and we will put it on peoples’ cars.”
Free popcorn, apple cider and candy canes are available in the heated warming house and wreaths can also be purchased.
Thousands of people will show up to purchase a tree and most will leave with a fir.
“They hold their needles and hold their ornaments really well,” he said. “The Canaan, Fraser and balsam are probably 95 percent of our sales.”
The farm includes 80 acres of trees in various stages of growth.
“It becomes an annual event for families. There’s a family right there. A little guy’s getting all bundled up and they have a baby right along with them. We have people that have been coming here since we opened that get their picture taken with their children next to our carved moose. Their Christmas card shows their kids growing up next to the moose.”
A lack of snow doesn’t mean that people aren’t putting a Christmas tree purchase on the back burner, according to Kass.
“The weather doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “If it’s raining, snowing or 5-below zero, there’s a consistent amount of business. They’re coming out to spend time, walk through the trees and find what they think is the best tree. We encourage them to take their time.”
People begin showing up to pick out a tree on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
“We have five weekends this year and four will be very, very busy,” Kass said. “The fifth weekend is because Christmas Eve is on a Sunday. We will not be open that last weekend.”
The Kass’ son operates a tree lot in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield and gets his trees from a farm he operates with Chuck.
“Wisconsin trees are exceptionally good trees,” Kass said. “State growers pride themselves on the quality of the trees produced in Wisconsin. From what I’ve seen, there’s no comparison.”
The rest of the year is spent on tree maintenance.
“It starts in the spring with the planting and that’s done as quickly as the frost leaves the ground,” Kass said. “Each one of the Frasers develops cones, which have to be removed by hand. All the young trees are fertilized by hand. We have nine people working here full-time, students from the various high schools: Wild Rose, Winneconne, Waupaca. There’s shearing and then it goes into harvest and loading.”
Central Wisconsin – particularly Waushara and Marquette counties – have ideal habitat for Christmas trees, according to Kass.
“We don’t get a real late frost and we don’t get extreme heat,” he said. “It’s an interesting business. It takes 10 years to get into and 10 years to get out of.”
That perfect habitat also results in perfect trees, Kass said.
“The good growers have no problems selling their trees,” he said. “It’s all quality. That’s what sells these trees. The good growers are pretty much sold out by early spring because they have repeat business. Like everything else, quality sells. That’s what it boils down to. You create a good product and it sells.”
That quality is what brought the Luty family back again this year.
“It’s just part of the Christmas tradition to have a real tree,” Luty said. “We listen to Christmas music on the way, kick off the season and get into the holiday spirit.”